Mantle, Williams and DiMaggio: Authenticating Baseball Forger Favorites

 It is unquestionable that Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, and Joe DiMaggio have been American sports icons since the mid-20th century. It comes as no surprise that these three have been favorites of autograph collectors since the advent of autograph and card shows in the 1980’s. Unfortunately it is equally unsurprising, as attested to in the FBI’s famous 1990s Operation Bullpen, that they are also the three most forged sports autographs. Although most experts believe the forgery problem in sports memorabilia has lessoned tremendously since Operation Bullpen (estimated at that time to be “between $500,000,000 and $900,000,000” by the FBI), sadly large numbers of forged material still exist.

While it would require far more than a single article to educate the autograph collector to detect Mantle, Williams and DiMaggio forgeries, there are some general as well as specific warning keys to these three autographs that may aid in detecting possible forgeries.


Genuine Mantle, Williams & DiMaggio signed photo provided by EAC Gallery.
Click to enlarge:



 

As a general rule, one of the first things I examine in an autograph is its feel – how it was written. When an individual signs his name there should be an easy, smooth flow to the signature. We’ve all signed our names countless times, and we don’t need to think about it. An item we offered in one of our past auctions was a sheet of paper signed several times by Joe Jackson. Jackson, who was almost completely illiterate, actually had to practice, in essence work at, writing his name prior to signing documents. Likewise, when a forger writes a signature, he or she is working at it and therefore upon close examination it’s often possible to detect such warning keys as a slowness of motion, stops and starts at inappropriate spots, and possibly even a shakiness in the writing. An invaluable aid to help detect these keys, taught to me by John Reznikoff of University Archives many years ago, is to turn the autograph upside down. When you view an autograph in an unnatural position these warning keys are often easier to detect.

In addition to such general warning keys there are specific warning keys, unique to an individual’s autograph, to keep an eye out for.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s Mickey Mantle stated on numerous occasions that he was blessed to be able to earn more money signing his name at one single weekend show than his father had earned in an entire year working as a coal miner. Because of this Mantle always felt his fans were deserving of a clear, elegant signature. In authentic Mickey Mantle autographs Mickey would always end the “y” in “Mickey” on an upswing, and because he would be quickly flowing through his signature, he therefore started the “M” in “Mantle” on a higher level or plane than he had started the “M” in “Mickey”. Most forgers, because they were “working” on writing Mantle’s signature, would pause after completing “Mickey” and begin anew in writing “Mantle”, therefore placing “Mantle” on more of a straight line with “Mickey”. If one places a ruler or sheet of paper straight across the item Mantle signed (not straight across the signature) all that appears below the ruler or paper of an authentic Mantle is the bottom portion of the “M” in “Mickey”. In the case of most forgeries the ruler or paper completely covers the entire signature. Another difficulty forgers have with Mantle’s signature was his unique way of looping the bottom portion of his “M”. Such curved lines were executed in one easy movement by Mantle, but are most often elongated by forgers who again are “working” the signature. Such slow, elongated forgeries are especially easy to recognize on baseballs as their curved surfaces only add to the forger’s difficulty.

In the case of Ted Williams autographs, with the exception of the capital “W” in Williams, Ted would consistently make the size of all the letters in his last time nearly the same exact size. Most telling is the “illia”, with the “l”s just ever so slightly taller than the “i”s, and the “a” as tall as the “l”s. Try as they may, most forgers simply can’t undo years of training and habit causing their “l”s to be significantly taller than their “i”s, and their “a” significantly shorter than their “l”s. Williams also connected the “W” in “Williams” to the “ed” in “Ted” with a swirl that gave forgers difficulty in replicating in the same, easy, flowing movement as appears in authentic examples. Also of interest, in addition to the many Williams intentional forgeries in existence, Williams revealed late in his life that during his playing days his signature on team signed balls was often a “clubhouse” example, not penned by him.

Regarding Joe DiMaggio’s autograph, problems for forgers begin with the first letter in Joe. Like the “M”s in Mantle’s autograph, the “J” in “Joe”, which appears as two loops, a larger loop on top and a smaller one below, were created by curved lines which are the hardest to duplicate without leaving telltale signs of slowness or inappropriate stops and starts. In addition, DiMaggio would pen his “J”s so that the lower loop would be written on top of (literally written over) the upper loop in two places. For some inexplicable reason, a significant percentage of DiMaggio forgeries flow in the opposite direction, with the upper loop covering the lower one. An inexpensive magnifier or jeweler’s loop will aid in viewing this detail. Finally, the general feel of an authentic DiMaggio autograph is often somewhat sloppy, in the sense that the spacing between letters is uneven, obviously much more so in his second name. Again due to the fact that forgers are working rather than simply signing, the spacing they place between each letter is far more uniform.

Finally, the age-old adage “experience is the best teacher” is indeed appropriate here. The building of as extensive a library of exemplars as possible, of both authentic and fake examples, would be of help to visualize these and additional warning keys, and tremendously assist in the detection of forgeries.

Tags: authenticate, baseball, dimaggio, fame, forgeries, forgers, genuine, hall, hof, joe, More…mantle, mickey, of, ted, williams

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now here is one that's different where it's an over/under.  It went at a Hunt Auction in 2010 and is back on the market with a Roger Maris signature but unsigned from Willie Mays.  It was certified by JSA at the hunt auction but also had another cert depicted below.  So, how does one assess an over/under?

 

DB, when it comes to autographs you can't be "technical" all of the time about autographs.    That's a beautiful hurried Mantle autograph.  It comes from the same time period as my Mickey Mantle above.    I am far from a "technical" knowledgeable autograph collector, DB.  I enjoy taking a little time every day to look at certain autographs.  That's what works for me.
I don't know Mantle well enough to meaningfully opine, but that has a very honest look and feel to it. And I love how the ink looks like a 60s-70s Parker. Not saying it is, but that's how it looks.

DB,

I've never heard of Bobby Poll or AutographReference.com. What do you (or anyone) know about him? I went to his website, and it looks like there's a lot he wants to do that he hasn't gotten to yet. But it sounds like he'd be a great person to invite to this site.

Unless you know of a reason not to, would you do the honors?

1st time I've come across one...  Too early to tell but I don't see any qualifications listed and "reasonable" is nice but when you contrast it against jsa & psa/dna one needs more than a spiffy looking coa.  I'd take a wait and see approach but feel free to invite.

Are you stating that it didn't have the Maris signature in the 2010 auction?

no - it's listed correctly w/o Mays only but didn't add it as this was a mantle thread.  It used as the marquee authenticator JSA but included the earlier one as well,   Here's Roger though;

 

 

 

now here is one from PSA/DNA being currently hawked at auction.  It's another over/under but what is troubling is there appears to be a stop/start on the K and in noway mirrors the original example.  Am I missing something or has PSA/DNA fouled off another?

 

I dunno... looks okay to me. I'm not seeing a stop start on the K. ??? If you are referring to the vertical line being separate from the right side of the K, I belive that is how he constructed the K... it's just usually squeezed together more.

 

It has all the indicators of being signed fast, which is something I've learned to look for.

possibly, but if you look at what appears to be an "e" following the C where it goes into the K.  It stops and comes off the card (note the botton of the "e" where it stops and then restarts with remaining portion of the K that starts with a downward right flow from or into the "e".  That's what drew my attention to it as they seem to be of one flow and connected... Unless of course this is also a variation of the initial one and thus more visual.  

Yes, I see the little "hop" in the stroke before the y.

 

Hmmmmm.

 

The other thing is the "n" is not as compressed as it should be.

 

Still can't tell for sure... probably best to avoid an example like this. Unfortunately, this is what the forgers have done -- I'm sure some good, but slightly off, sigs will be thrown out with the bathwater.

I like this signature, as I do the other "over/under" you found, they're both fluid, smooth signatures.  Yes, there is a stop at the K, but the keys with forgeries are where the stops & starts are in inappropriate locates, often in Mantle's case literally in the middle of his Ms.  Such stops & starts create a slowness of writing, which is not evident in this example.  I hope this helps

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